US | 2016 | Directed by Gareth Edwards
Logline: A small faction of the Rebel Alliance, lead by a vengeful young woman, attempt to steal the plans for the Empire’s new weapon, the Death Star.
I left my cynicism at the door when I watched The Force Awakens, episode VII in the Star Wars saga, directed by J.J. Abrams, and I really enjoyed the movie at the time. The more I thought about the movie in the weeks and months that followed the less impressed I was with it. The whole facsimile of episode IV element - and it’s a huge one - weighed more and more heavily. The sheen of the movie turned to floss, the movie began to taste and feel like Hubba Bubba bubblegum, all uber-flavour and great for blowing the bubbles of my youth, but soon enough the flavour was gone and the gum was no longer fun to chew.
Gareth Edwards, who made Monsters, one of my favourite movies of the past ten years, and who delivered a great Godzilla re-boot a few years ago, is at the helm of this prequel, which dovetails straight into A New Hope like hand in Rebel glove. The story is essentially the brainchild of John Knoll, the special effects whiz from Industrial Light & Magic, who took his cue from the first paragraph of the opening scrawl to A New Hope; “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
The screenplay is by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, and while Rogue One isn’t a plot-point for plot-point direct copy of A New Hope it does rely heavily on the nostalgia for the original movies, but is that such a bad thing? While its merits as a stand alone movie can be debated, with character punctuation involving certain crucial roles within the Empire, it does provide a wealth of peripheral nods to the original trilogy that will appeal like gems to the more geeky of Star Wars fans, for example, the aggressive ugly mug who later accosts Luke in the Mos Eisley cantina, and the same hologram chess game from onboard the MF, making brief appearances. It is these references that enrich the movie as a whole, and are handled by Edwards with care and intelligence.
Rogue One is, essentially, an espionage war movie, and rumour has it that a substantial amount of the movie was re-shot, after Disney executives became alarmed with the rough cut Edwards delivered earlier in the year. They told Edwards he’d made a war movie, to which he replied, yes. But apparently that’s not what Disney really wanted. Rogue One is certainly still a movie with a lot of battling going on, but one wonders just how much was actually re-shot. One rumour mill suggested between 40-50%, whilst another source told me he had inside knowledge that up to 80%. That seems excessive, and unrealistic, considering the release date. But something tells me somewhere there is another version of Rogue One that is much darker in tone and probably more violent. Maybe it will become the holy grail of bootlegs amongst Star Wars fans in years to come. It’s always fun and interesting to have those illicit treasures floating around. But I digress …
One of Rogue One’s key successes, as opposed to Abrams’ super-glossy, ultimately hollow episode, is how close in mood, tone, and its visual style, it is to the original Star Wars movie, Episode IV: A New Hope. There are no wipe edits, John Williams’ legendary score rears its head in just a few scenes, and only the fourth moon of Yavin makes an appearance in the location department, but there is a genuine sense of exhilaration and intrigue which Edwards conjures. Admittedly, at times the sense of humour pokes its head up a little higher than I anticipated, most notably with the character of K-2SO, an Imperial droid who has been acquired and re-programmed for use by the Rebel Alliance. He’s like a cross between C-3PO and Chappie. He’s definitely funny, but the reliance on him for comic relief veers dangerously close to He Who Will Not Be Named for fear of jinxing the movie.
Performances are solid, with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and Ben Mendelsohn (who is really shining in his career of late) standouts, while it’s curious to note just how multi-racial the cast is compared to George Lucas’s original trilogy. The production design is superb, the battle sequences thrilling, and the new locations are spectacular; the security of the Imperial residing in a lush Dubai-like tropical paradise, but a giant Jedi knight rock in the desert, wtf?!
Rogue One will no doubt have its cynics, but I’m proud to say, I’m not on that haters’ boat. Okay, admittedly, I don’t like that they’ve opted for full CGI on a crucial character. It’s the same issue I had with Tron: Legacy. I’d have much preferred an actor who looks the part, rather than attempting to digitally create a character from 1977. It’s all in the eyes. But hey, Rogue One, is awesome sauce. I might even go as far as saying it’s my second favourite movie of the entire saga. Now that’s a rogue move.